Gulag Archipeligo - truth or propaganda?
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11-05-2017, 06:21 PM
RE: Gulag Archipeligo - truth or propaganda?
(10-05-2017 05:19 PM)Dr H Wrote:  
(06-05-2017 02:34 PM)Deltabravo Wrote:  I recall when Alexander Solzhenitzyn's book came out and he arrived in the US, all the fuss about it and my initial reaction was that this was a great man, a great author, but I had no desire to read his book.

A few months ago, I eventually succumbed and picked up a copy at the local library and sat down to read it. After the first few chapters I had to put it down because I had an overwhelming sensation that the book didn't ring true. I was wondering if anyone else had the same feeling about it. The reason I say this is that he goes on and on about very insignificant people he met telling him story after story about how they had been arrested, wrongly, because some relative had done something relatively trivial which had given away that they were dissidents. Typically, the detainee would be made to stand in knee deep water for three days or hung upside down by their toes, or have their testicles crushed repeatedly or some other equally horrific punishment would be inflicted on them.

But, Al, who was caught communicating across enemy lines was arrested and, shock of horrors, was left in a room by himself for a few hours, before being put on a train. I realized after a while that all the stories of truly eye-watering torture were second hand tales with no corroboration, while he wasn't tortured at all. One would think that when a 23 year old grocer's assistant whose uncle sneezed inappropriately as politburo member was passing by was racked, a serving army officer who was, in fact, anti-Soviet, would have been harshly dealt with. Apparently not.

There are a lot of Russians living near us now and what I realize is they are all devout Orthodox Christians. I hadn't realized that this religion survived quite successfully through the Soviet era and none of these people seem any different in outlook than Westerners. None of them seem to have anything bad to say about their or their families' experiences or have anything bad to say about their lives back home and they all think Putin is a great guy. It's most peculiar.

I don't doubt Al was locked up in a Gulag but I just couldn't finish the book because it just seemed like a work of a propagandist, not that I am a fan of the Soviets or Russia.
Solzhenitzyn's first wife, Natalia Reshetovskaia, maintained that a significant portion of the book was what she called "camp folklore".
Sanya: My life with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Of course, she also had a bit of an ax to grind with Al, and there is some suspicion that her statements may have been part of a KGB effort to smear Solzhenitsyn .
Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB In Europe And The West

Among historians, Solzhenitsyn's reliability as an historical source is ambiguous. His history of the Russian Jews (Two Hundred Years Together), for example, has been denounced by some as an anti-Semitic screed.
Dimensional Spaces in Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Two Hundred Years Together

As regards The Gulag Archipelago, there are issues with the quantitative data in Solzhenitsyn's account differing significantly from those gleaned from actual Soviet archives after the fall of the Soviet Union. He claims, for example, that at least 50 million passed through the camps, which had a collective population as high as 15 million; information from the archives puts those numbers at more like 14 million total, with a peak population (in 1953) of about 2 million. (Of course Al may have just not been particularly good at making estimates...)

There seems to be a tendency to treat Solzhenitsyn's reports as literary and political works, valuable as qualitative accounts of life within the Gulags, but weak as sources of quantitative data, or in generalizing across the whole network of camps.
(See, for example):
Images of Dictatorship, Vol. 3

Thanks for your response which is very helpful.

I think I am in agreement with Al's wife on this one.
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